Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Tuesday night featured the 3rd debate, but the second of the largely inconsequential, entertainment for the partisan bases debates. Vice Presidential debates are purely for sport. Barring a horrible flub, the VP debate usually accomplishes the art of doing something that would be less than presidential if attempted by the candidates on the top of the ticket.
In a format where the presidential candidates have three debates, the middle debate is sandwiched in between two that have the opportunity to matter. There’s “first impression” debate where candidates share a stage and voters are able to make direct compare and contrast observations. Romney used that opportunity in Denver to maximum advantage, taking a race many had written off and moving the polls to a dead heat.
Still to come is a final debate where each candidate essentially makes a closing argument to the country. This debate has great potential to matter given the current fluid nature of the race.
Tuesday’s middle debate didn’t have the clear winner that the Denver debate did, but for the sake of argument the edge should be given to the President. Based on his earlier performance, showing up and providing somewhat coherent responses to Mitt Romney would almost have to be judged as a win. Democrats seemed much more pleased Tuesday evening, which is in itself a victory for the President’s campaign. The circular firing squad forming within his own team’s ranks can holster their weapons for the time being.
If there will be a lasting memory from the performance, however, it will be the exchange on Libya. It came near the end of the 90 minutes and featured Romney challenging the President on his refusal for weeks to call the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others an act of terror. The President challenged Romney on the assertion, and moderator Candy Crowley inexplicably jumped into the middle of the exchange to assert that the President’s version was correct.
An hour later when recapping the debate with other CNN pundits, Crowley revised and extended her remarks, noting that Mitt Romney was correct “in the main” but he just “chose the wrong word.” Unfortunately, 50-60 million people weren’t watching CNN an hour after her gaffe.
The final debate will be on foreign policy however, and there is no doubt that the situation in Libya and the President’s handling of the situation will be addressed again. As with so many issues that turn into scandal, the questions for voters at this time are not as much about placing blame as they are for the evolving stories that the White House and State Department have issued over the events.
At some point, hopefully, the President will be asked directly and succinctly to explain why he and his administration continued to blame a filmmaker and a YouTube video for the terrorist actions of Al Qaeda. Two weeks after the attack, the President continued to blame the video in a speech to the United Nations, essentially blaming an American citizen for the assignation of four Americans on a world stage.
Crowley’s interjection helped seal the night for the President on a night when instant polls conducted by her own network gave a win to Romney on issues of the economy, health care, taxes, and the deficit. Regardless, few will decide their vote on Wednesday’s performance.
There are, however, three more weeks to expound upon the difference between being right “in the main” and having a proper response to the American people when our country is attacked. There remains three weeks to inspect our response to the rest of the world as well.
We’ve been telling ourselves since this campaign began that “it’s the economy, stupid” is the issue of that will decide things. Yet the closing arguments will be based on foreign policy. And then voters will get to decide who is right for the country, without journalists butting in to pronounce they are wrong but right “in the main”.